Dealing with family turmoil can be one of the most stressful issues facing a college student. Maybe you grew up in a family with considerable turmoil or dysfunction, or maybe family problems erupted once you left for school. In either case, trying to deal with these problems can be very disruptive to college life, but learning to face these issues in a productive way will help you become emotionally stronger and have a better college experience.
Varieties of Family Problems
Let's first consider the example where problems started to occur in your family once you left for school. Perhaps your parents decided to get a divorce or one of your siblings or family members developed a physical or psychological illness. These are just some examples that often occur, but there could be many others. These issues may leave you feeling distraught, confused and alone. Sometimes students feel they are responsible for resolving some of the family issues and this adds an extra emotional burden.
Now, let's consider the other example mentioned—you grew up in a family with a lot of turmoil and dysfunction. Sometimes students hope that they can escape their family by leaving for school. While it is true that having some distance from the family can be a helpful way to examine its impact upon you, it simply isn't possible to escape or avoid your family's influence. It is likely that the relationships you had or did not have in your family are having an impact on the way you develop relationships and resolve issues at school. It is likely that your emotional, psychological and intellectual well-being have been affected by growing up in a family with considerable turmoil or dysfunction. Trying to forget the past without understanding its impact upon you usually will not work and can lead to more problems.
What You Can Do
- Openly communicate with your family members in a way that is honest and respectful to avoid being caught in the middle.
- Remember that you cannot change your family, but you can change the way you respond.
- Develop a support network and let your close friends know what’s going on.
- Continue with your usual activities if you feel like you need a distraction, or prioritize and reduce your busy schedule if you feel like you need a break.
- Consider other campus resources. Could the financial aid or campus ministry offices be helpful?
- If you grew up with family dysfunction, it’s important to face the hurt and pain so that you can equip yourself to understand it and cope.
In any case, it is important to remember that you are a product of your family, a product of its strengths and its weaknesses. As you enter adulthood, it is up to you to grow with that knowledge and to choose a path for yourself. If you need help with this process, there are many resources in the Baltimore area. If you would like to discuss family problems or any other issues with a counselor, call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment.